What is it?

Bronchiectasis is when the lung branches known as bronchi demonstrate a permanent abnormal widening and an inflammation that prevents the cleaning of the mucus in the lungs. The mucus therefore builds up and bacteria begins to grow which leads to a cycle of repeated lung infections and blocked airways. Overtime the lungs become severely damaged and become inadequate in thoroughly moving air in and out of the lungs. This deprives the body of a sufficient supply of oxygen.

There are three types of bronchiectasis that exists:

  • Cylindrical – widening of the respiratory passages
  • Varicose – bronchial walls have both extended and collapsed portions
  • Cystic – an irreversible ballooning of the bronchi. This is the most severe form of bronchiectasis

What causes it?

Bronchiectasis is primarily caused as a consequence of an infection or another condition that injures the walls of the airways or prevents the airways from clearing mucus. Some of these are:

  • Recurrent, severe lung infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and fungal infections.
  • Airway obstructions by a foreign body or tumor.
  • Abnormal lung defenses.
  • Complications from certain infections such as adenovirus, measles, pneumonia, whooping cough, tuberculosis.
  • Exposure to chemical irritants (such as ammonia inhalation) may lead to airway inflammation and bronchiectasis.
  • Chronic obstruction of a bronchus by a tumour or foreign body.
  • Immunological deficiency disorders (HIV, hypogammaglobulinemia).
  • Lung fibrosis (such as connective tissue diseases and pulmonary fibrosis) can increase tension on the bronchiectasis, resulting in dilated airways and traction bronchiectasis.
  • Born with a predisposition to the disorder.

What are we doing about it?

The Institute for Respiratory Health’s clinical trials for bronchiectasis explore new ways to prevent, and better understand bronchiectasis and improve its diagnosis and management.

Other information can be found at the Australian Institute of Health and WelfareLung Foundation Australia and Healthdirect Australia.